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  • Rachael Lindberg

“My partner(s) and I struggle with criticism. How can virtual relationship counseling change this?”

Rachael Lindberg, LPC, SXI, CCTP

Afterglow Counseling & Coaching, PLLC


Criticism is one of the most common ineffective communication patterns in relationships. The Gottman Institute has identified severe, frequent criticism as a predictor of divorce. As a definition, criticism is the expression of disapproval, flaws, faults, and mistakes from one person to another. In relationships, this can show up as “You never take out the trash,” “You’re always late,” or “This kitchen is a mess. What did you do all day?” Addressing and reducing criticism is an essential relationship skill. The presence of criticism can escalate conflict, leading to hurt feelings, miscommunication, resentment, and withdrawal or avoidance. Reducing criticism and using a more effective communication skill can enhance the emotional safety within the relationship which will promote collaboration and compromise. Reducing criticism can be difficult because it often stems from very valid emotions- anger, frustration, shame, or insecurity. However, the expression of criticism as a reaction to these emotions will escalate conflict and can damage the relationship. 


An effective communication strategy to reduce criticism, express emotions, and request change is a tool called “ARC Statements.” ARC Statements, which I learned about in Sometimes Therapy is Awkward by Nicole Arzt, LMFT, was introduced as a communication strategy for improving assertiveness while boundary setting. The structure for ARC Statements is to Acknowledge your part, Report the issue, and Collaborate on a solution. ARC Statements reduce the negative outcomes of criticism by the speaker modeling accountability for their role in the concern, clearly identifying the issue to prevent misunderstandings, and then inviting the listener to collaborate which promotes partnership. ARC Statements work best when everyone tries to reduce their criticism and learns to manage their emotional reactions when given feedback. 


A young Black couple talks on a yellow couch

A few examples of ARC Statements: 

  • “I recognize that I contributed to the mess in the bedroom. Getting ready in the mornings has become overwhelming when we trip over the unfolded laundry. Let’s sit down on Sunday to work out a plan for doing the laundry.”

  • “I see that I have been moody and irritable since last Tuesday. I felt stressed when my boss moved up my project deadline. I’ll try to be more communicative when I am feeling that way, does that work for you?”

  • “I acknowledge that I haven’t shared these feelings with you before. I felt rejected and lonely when I tried to initiate sex last week and you were on your phone. Do you have any ideas for how we can initiate and decline sex more gently?” 


ARC Statements can be a powerful tool for improving communication and can be learned through virtual relationship counseling. Being mindful of how our words can affect our partner(s) and contribute to the escalation of conflict will improve the openness of communication and vulnerability in sharing feelings. It does involve effort from everyone involved to adjust their communication styles, and hopefully, it will be worth it when communication is more productive and effective.

 

Interested in virtual individual or couples counseling to address criticism? Submit a Contact Form to schedule a free 15-minute initial phone consultation!

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